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ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT H2O

WHY STAYING HYDRATED IS THE KEY TO LOOKING AND FEELING YOUR BEST

Understandably a lot of health and fitness advice focuses on diet. But alongside keeping an eye on what you’re eating, it’s important not to overlook what you’re drinking—or, more specifically, how much water you’re drinking. In fact, when it comes to keeping fit and working to the best of your ability, keeping hydrated can be just as important as fuelling your body with food.

WHY IS HYDRATION SO IMPORTANT?

The stats speak for themselves. Just being dehydrated by as little as 2% can lead to a reduction in sporting performance, and when you’re thirsty your brain’s ability to work properly can be cut by as much as 10%. As Dr Wendy Bazilian, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, explains, “Water is our most important nutrient … It makes up about 60–70% of our body, and plays a role in virtually every function in the body—from keeping our blood flowing, our skin healthy and right down to our ability to blink our eyes.” So keeping yourself hydrated does everything from helping maintain your concentration to helping keep your bowels regular…

But let’s not get too dramatic here: so long as you’re healthy and have access to a clean water supply, the chances of you suffering any genuine medical problems as a result of dehydration are pretty slim. So why should we be so concerned about it?

via GIPHY

THERE’S MORE TO THIS THAN JUST BEING THIRSTY

Okay, so we know that even mild dehydration can start to compromise your health and stifle the effectiveness of your workout—but that’s just the tip of the dehydration iceberg. Other reasons to make sure you stay hydrated at all times include:

 

  • WEIGHT LOSS

Besides the fact that hunger pangs are just as often caused by thirst as they are hunger (a study at Virginia Tech found that people who drank water before a meal consumed an average of 75 fewer calories per meal!) experiments routinely show a significant connection between staying hydrated and losing weight.

One recent study at Berlin’s Franz-Volhard Clinical Research Center for instance found that participants’ metabolic rates increased by as much as 30% after they drank water. Based on that, the researchers estimated that if a person were to increase their water consumption by 1½ litres per day, they would burn off a staggering 17,400 calories more across year compared to someone who was less well hydrated. That equates to around 5 pounds of body weight lost per year, just from drinking more water!

 

  • MENTAL CLARITY

Keep yourself focused: poor hydration leads to increased tiredness, reduced alertness, muddled thinking, and impaired short-term memory.

 

  • BETTER RESULTS IN THE GYM

Not seeing the gains you want to see at the gym? Perhaps a lack of water is to blame. Remember, muscles are about 80% water; dehydration diminishes blood flow, slows the delivery of nutrients to your muscles, and impedes your recovery process. Water also helps reduce the chance of injury and pain because of the key role it plays in keeping joints lubricated. According to Dr Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, “If you don’t hydrate yourself correctly, you won’t perform very well and you won’t see results.”

 

  • APPEARANCE

It may not exactly be the fountain of youth, but water helps keep your skin clear and repairs dry skin, cracked lips, and staves off wrinkling. It’s also used to make saliva, the body’s best natural defence against tooth decay, and good hydration helps preserve the elasticity and tone of the skin.

 

SO HOW CAN I TELL IF I’M DEHYDRATED?

If you want to get technical, you can use this quick bit of maths to check how much liquid you should be taking in every day.

 

First, work out your bodyweight in pounds. (Only know it in kilos? No problem—multiply that figure by 2.2, and you’ll be sorted.) Next, divide this amount by 2. This will give you your optimal daily fluid intake in fluid ounces, but for a more usable guide divide this figure again by 34 for your total hydration in litres. So for instance:

 

  • Someone weighing 80kg would weigh in at 80 × 2.2 = 176 lbs.
  • That means they would need to drink 176 ÷ 2 = 88 fluid ounces per day. But for a more useful guide…
  • 88 ÷ 34 = 2.6. So this person would need to drinking roughly 2.6 litres a day to stay optimally hydrated.

 

Simple! But if all that number crunching sounds too technical, or you’re just not a fan of maths…

  

THERE IS ANOTHER WAY (BUT YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE IT…)

If all else fails, try this: one of the best and easiest barometers for checking how hydrated you are is to check your pee.

It might not sound nice, but as a rule of thumb the darker the colour of your urine, the less hydrated you are. Healthy pee should be odourless and a pale straw-yellow colour. Darker, stronger-smelling urine is a red flag for dehydration and a sure sign that you should be getting more fluid during the day.

via GIPHY

Of course, other factors can be at play here; you’re more likely to be dehydrated in the morning, for instance, or when you’re unwell. And there’s more to your pee than just hydration—a green or pink tinge, or needing to go for a pee more often than usual, are all serious red flags and would be well worth chasing up with your doctor to rule out anything untoward going on inside. But as a rough guide, the colour of your pee can offer a fair idea of how hydrated you are and whether or not you need to top your fluids up.

But what if you think you might be dehydrated—what’s the best course of action?

 

KEEPING YOURSELF TOPPED UP WITH WATER

You’ll no doubt have heard the rule that you need to ideally drink around 6–8 glasses, cups, or mugs of liquid every day to keep dehydration at bay. (More if it’s a hot day, of course, or if you’re unwell, very active, or losing a lot of liquid through sweat.) But it’s fair to say “liquid” is a bit of a vague term here. So what’s the best way to keep yourself topped up?

Well, when it comes to keeping yourself hydrated, it’s important to remember not all liquids work in the same way. Good choices are smoothies, pure fruit juices, sugar-free flavoured waters, low-fat milks, and not forgetting good old plain water—either bottled or tap, still or sparkling, and with or without squash or cordial. (But as we’ve mentioned before on here, remember to keep an eye on the sugar contents of drinks like smoothies, fruit juices and flavoured waters.)

Even healthier choices are unsweetened coconut or almond milks, green teas, peppermint tea (which has the added bonus of aiding digestion) and other herbal teas. Some people even swear by just plain boiled water flavoured with a slice of lemon or a squirt of honey—seriously, give it a try if you haven’t before!

At the opposite end of the scale, stay well clear of sports drinks and energy drinks, fizzy, sugary soft drinks, flavoured drinks and cartoned (i.e. not freshly squeezed) fruit juices. Their high sugar content can play havoc with your caloric intake and insulin levels, leaving you bloated and crashed out and with no energy later in the day. As for ordinary tea or coffee, contrary to what many people believe these do actually count towards your daily fluid intake—but with a proviso: caffeine is a diuretic (i.e. it makes you pee more often). So depending on your lifestyle, your training schedule, and the amount you drink, caffeine-rich drinks can end up having a negative effect on your hydration overall.

Same goes for alcohol: a lot of the actual volume of a glass of lager and beer is just water—which is why drinking too much, or too quickly, can leave you feel bloated and saturated. But alcohol too is a diuretic, so you’ll end up more dehydrated the morning after no matter how much you’ve had to drink the night before!

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